The Great Nothing, the cleverly titled debut album from Starving Insect, got me thinking about nihilism. Defined as the belief that life is meaningless, nihilism rejects morality and embraces the absence of purpose or values. Owing to a vocal sample on “IDDQD” where the speaker declares “I feel nothing, fucking nothing at all,” combined with the album’s title, I began to apply this dogma to the album in its entirety.
Starving Insect (Alexander Kassberg) is labeled as “doomcore”—a subgenre of hardcore techno that is slower, heavier, and darker than most of its techno-leaning cousins, and doesn’t typically feature much distortion in its electronics. You’ll still hear the familiar keyboard stabs and booming bass drums that have defined hardcore techno since its birth as an electronic style, but the feel is noticeably different. Nor does doomcore feature the mechanical streamlined inertia of noise-based techno acts like Stahlfrequenz and Noisuf-X, or the exhilarating spoofery of Massiv in Mensch. The tracks on The Great Nothing are long—all over five-and-a-half minutes—and the sound is bleak, minimal, and repetitive. It’s a listening experience that teeters on the brink of being numbing.
And that’s the point.
At first, The Great Nothing struck me as little more than stripped-down beats with minimal supporting details and a distinctively retro structure: well-done technically, but not particularly memorable; a series of beats destined to live its brief intense life within a DJ mix at some eclectic club, built exclusively for the fringe dancefloor and not attempting to be anything else. However, once I began to consider it from a nihilistic perspective, the respective pieces began to fit together in an altogether new way.
I started to hear the looping pounding beats and repeated minimal synth spikes that feature the same techno sound and 4/4 structure heard in countless club anthems, and occasional apocalyptic vocal samples as an expression of the nihilistic mindset. The Great Nothing began to embody its title, becoming a modern techno mantra bent on rejecting the confusing complexities of modern society: breaking things down into their base components, embracing the routine and the mundane. Kassberg constructed (or deconstructed) his beats this way on purpose, I realized, making them hollow and emotionless, driving against the overload that is twenty-first-century modern urban life. Kassberg stresses in the CD’s liner notes that, since the album’s tracks were produced over several years (“I’m a slow worker,” he quips), The Great Nothing should not be approached as a conceptual album. However, given the uniformity of the tracks’ structures, it’s not a stretch to connect them with lines of nihilism.
The lone exception is the final track, “Allt Dör”—the second of two collaborations with Omnicide on the album—which uses backing keyboard elements following chord shifts in classic ambient style, anchored by a muted beat that plods along carefully and, believe it or not, relatively quietly. It’s a surprisingly creative and subtle track, especially when compared to the rigid nature defining the rest of the album. Kassberg is capable of something beyond the borders of genre, and with this track, he provides quite a tantalizing glimpse of what he might be capable of under different banners.
The bulk of The Great Nothing fits doggedly into its strict framework, indulging and reveling in its cold, cold heart. Starving Insect has crafted something deceptively simplistic and philosophically curious. The Great Nothing is an album that might be a tough listen for long stretches on its own merits, but it is an intriguing exercise in genre. Dutch label Dark. Descent. (not to be confused with American metal label Dark Descent) has assembled an impressive catalog of techno subgenres, and Starving Insect’s initial salvo carries an undercurrent of conceptual depth beneath a stubborn exterior.
01) Overhead, Without Any Fuss, the Stars Were Going Out
02) Breeding the Threnodies
03) Sleep Is Death
04) There Are No Doors
06) Dormant Storm
07) Visions of the Blind Dead
08) Allt Dör